How Much Freedom Should Parents Allow Teens to Have?

Cropped view of teenage driver receiving keys from parentI often have parents come to my office wanting guidance on how much freedom they should allow their teen to have. Of course, the answer to that greatly depends on variables such as the individual teen, their life experiences, the amount of family support they have, their level of responsibility, level of maturity, etc. Many times, parents want to protect their teen from painful life experiences, especially if the parent(s) had to face many challenges during their adolescence.

Sometimes, though, being too protective and/or rigid can backfire and the teen will rebel. The key is to create a balance between dependence and independence as the adolescent slowly transitions to adulthood, typically between the ages of 10 and 25.

While many parents underestimate their teen’s readiness for certain privileges and freedoms, most teens overestimate their readiness to take on certain privileges and responsibilities. I typically tell teens that “freedom equals responsibility,” meaning that one needs to demonstrate responsible behavior before expecting to have certain freedoms. For example, if I am to have the freedom of driving a car, I need to demonstrate that I am responsible enough to follow traffic laws, have my driver’s license, car insurance, etc.

Parents and teens often experience a push/pull in their relationships when deciding what freedoms are appropriate for the teens to have, which can create a lot of stress within the family system. The fact a teen is motivated to push for more freedom and independence and the parent’s task is to guide and protect the teen means there is often discord. This is a normal part of the process of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. The transition is a period of regular readjustment and can intensify conflict between parents and teens.

Parents are responsible for instilling values in their children about what is right and what is wrong. Given that teens often feel a sense of entitlement to make their own decisions about issues that impact their lives, it is important for parents to have clarity about the contexts in which they will exercise their authority and in which contexts they will allow more freedom. While teens undoubtedly will make mistakes, parents need to trust them to make some of their own decisions and to learn from their missteps.

There is no way for parents to know for certain if their teen is going to make the wrong choices. The chances of a teen making the right choice are increased when parents believe in the teen’s ability to do so. That said, trust must be earned—and in order to earn trust, teens must act responsibly. In order for teens to grow up, they need to have the opportunity to experience the freedom of making their own decisions (age appropriate) and the opportunity to learn from mistakes. When parents place a certain level of trust in their teen, the teen will be more likely to respect the parents as well as their rules.

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  • Kennedy

    Kennedy

    December 3rd, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    The way I see it, my parents will give me as much freedom as I can prove to them that I can handle. If I show that I am responsible and do the things that they ask, then yeah, I anticipate that they will give me a little more freedom. I also expect that if my grades start slipping or they feel that I am not holding up my end of the bargain with the expectations that have been set, I expect them to tighten the reins again until I prove to them that I can do it and they will let me try again.

  • Bob

    Bob

    January 12th, 2017 at 10:36 PM

    May I ask what their idea of a good grade or expectation of grades is? Because if I get more than 2 B’s, my parents will literally take away all my freedom. Ex: 3 B’s and 3 A’s = losing all freetime

  • Anya

    Anya

    March 2nd, 2017 at 5:26 PM

    lol.. My parents get bad if I get 1 B on a test for one of my “good” subjects
    It was a B+ too…

  • Melissa

    Melissa

    June 12th, 2017 at 10:36 PM

    Can you please tell my soon-to-be step daughter that? She is 17 years old and thinks she “runs the roost”! I keep having to get onto her about doing her homework, otherwise she stays on her electronics all day and night, and her dad gets mad at me for informing her that if she don’t go by the rules in this home then she gets her electronics taken away by me (since her dad won’t discipline her)! I was raised by a step father, soI know a little of what he went through with me and I do remember to this day on how I got disciplined, which is illegal these days! I tell her dad that if he don’t do something about her attitude than I will! He tells me to stay out of it because she’s NOT my daughter…even though I am playing “mommy” to her! Any advice???

  • bruce

    bruce

    December 3rd, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    There have been times with all of my teens (I have 3 so work with me) that I think I have given them a little more lee way than what they may deserve or know how to handle at the time, and any time I have done that they have abused that freedom. I don’t think that they did it intentionally it’s just that they are not yet old enough to handle some of the things that go along with all of that freedom. It is hard to pull back though once they have had a little taste of that freedom and that is when you might have some rebellion. I think that the better thing for parents to do, and what I would do if I had the chance all over again, is to give just little bits at a time so that they become accustomed to what is expected of them and they get a firm grip on how to manage all of the new things that they will be up against.

  • G.Donald

    G.Donald

    December 3rd, 2014 at 8:29 PM

    It absolutely stinks to have overprotective parents. I had such parents and to this day, I fear things and social situations because they never let me grow as a person, they were always around to ‘guide’ and ‘protect’. If a youngster does not do things for themselves how are they ever going to learn?! There can be no mastery without a few falls, as that is very much true when we are talking about life.

  • Debbie

    Debbie

    December 4th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    Teens will naturally take as much freedom as you will let them have. I think that it is up to each parent to know their children and have a pretty good idea of how much of this can they can be trusted to. I know that when my brother and I were young I got to do a lot more things than he could because I think that my parents instinctively understood that I could be trusted and that he couldn’t. I guess it just took him a little longer to mature, and then when he did that was when he started having the ability to do more things. I think that as a parent you have to take take each child individually, know their strengths and weaknesses, and help highlight the things that are great and help them work on the others.

  • illman

    illman

    December 5th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    They will already push the bounds so I would be very conservative, they are already going to push beyond where you tell them their limits are anyway so you don’t want them to have to chance to push too far into dangerous territory

  • Kyleigh

    Kyleigh

    December 6th, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Teenagers are notorious for biting off more than they can chew. If we already know this about them then why do we give them even more opportunities to mess it all up?

  • Tabitha

    Tabitha

    February 20th, 2018 at 2:05 PM

    If we don’t give them a chance to “mess up” as you put it then they will never learn from it. Yes a parent needs to know how much freedom to give and how much to take away, but if a kid never gets freedom they won’t know how to handle it when they are older and have to rely on that freedom they never got.

  • carol P.

    carol P.

    December 9th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    As a parent you always have the best interest of your kids at heart and you so badly want to do the right thing, but I think that there are too many more parent who are too worried about being a best friend instead pf just being a parent. You can be their friends later on, but during the teen years they really need you more for discipline and guidance. Most of them have quite enough friends, they need something far deeper than that from you.

  • nuhu david

    nuhu david

    February 1st, 2017 at 4:20 AM

    as a parent you should be able to allow your kids to have a little bit of their time to make decision on their own to please them

  • justin

    justin

    February 12th, 2017 at 12:24 AM

    I bet ur kids already know.

  • Allan S

    Allan S

    February 28th, 2018 at 5:10 PM

    Hi guys, you should let your kids do whatever they want! They rule you, accept it.

  • Julian N

    Julian N

    February 24th, 2017 at 8:17 PM

    My parents wouldn’t let me have any freedom, one example being I wasn’t allowed to go to my school’s military ball just because I was about to go with a friend (who is a girl) but I was never allowed to interact with other kids till I turned 13 and I was homeschooled up to that point.

  • vishvajit

    vishvajit

    April 19th, 2017 at 8:33 AM

    if we give too much he will take advantage thats why I dont let him take the advantage or he will dance over my head

  • jame s

    jame s

    June 10th, 2017 at 8:18 AM

    This post is very simple to read and appreciate without leaving any details out. Great work!

  • Zumzu

    Zumzu

    July 19th, 2017 at 7:53 PM

    I hate work :c

  • kelli

    kelli

    November 6th, 2017 at 12:35 PM

    can someone help me …. i have to debate on the topic teenagers are given too much freedom and i dont know a crap…….plzzzzzz helpp :(

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